The pandemic has magnified the value technology platforms bring to both advisors and their clients, but are you fully utilizing the technological resources available to you?
by Alex ReffettMr. Reffett is a principal and co-founder of East Paces Group, an Atlanta-based registered investment adviser (RIA). Visit www.eastpacesgroup.com.
At the start of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic began to reshape many professional landscapes in an accelerated timeline that few were prepared for.
Industries across the globe were suddenly faced with challenges that required overnight solutions to ensure operational stability. For most, adapting and implementing new technology was not only practical but necessary.
While the use of technological platforms has been on the rise for years within the financial industry, the recent pandemic has magnified the value that it can bring to both advisors and their clients. Automated portfolio reporting, digital meetings, client relationship management (CRM) software, and interactive financial planning platforms are just a handful of devices at a firm’s disposal.
Yet for many advisors and clients alike, this digital marketplace can be an intimidating one. Clients who are used to in-person meetings and pen-and-paper processes may require more time for technical support from their financial team. Advisors who are accustomed to more traditional aspects of wealth management may not be fully utilizing their technological resources.
For large firms with mandated processes, technology adoption can be mandatory and a necessary evil. However, those enjoying the independent advisory space may have to take an honest look at their business practices and see what can best help them grow. Introducing fresh habits can be challenging on both sides of the financial advisory fence, some best practices can help to ensure adoption by everyone involved.
CRM Software Can Keep Client Communications Organized
CRM, or client relationship management, is often considered a must for any industry that needs to record their client interactions. CRMs are designed to track tasks, document communication, store data, and generate client-driven reports. Some CRMs are built specifically for financial industry needs and can help streamline tasks such as tracking RMDs, opening new accounts, or make recurring investment updates. Having a singular platform that keeps track of all client interactions and requests has huge organizational as well as compliance advantages.
I have experienced firsthand the challenges of adopting CRMs and integrating them into operations processes and one thing is for certain – the pain is worth the gain. If an advisor is accustomed to sending an email to their operations lead if they want to open and fund a new account, so much can be forgotten in this process. If they forget to note the advisory fee, or the type of account being transferred or any other detail, this can hold up the process.
Best case scenario, they can send back an email and note what is missing – worst case, the advisor sent that just before traveling and the client and operations team are in a holding pattern for an extended period of time. This may not seem like a big deal on a singular task, but if you add up the time savings and mistakes avoided over a year — the benefits are crystal clear. Instead of having your operations team (often serving multiple advisors and dozens of simultaneous tasks) create a unique process that must be tracked through emails/texts/phone calls, you now have a platform that is trackable and manageable.
Portfolio Management Software Can Help Advisors and Clients Alike
Many clients have retirement plans, 401(k)s, brokerage accounts, and other financial products located at different institutions. Keeping track of each account’s tax qualification status, performance, history, and analysis is a potential nightmare for even the most well-organized advisor. Portfolio management software helps to consolidate the access point for a client’s entire portfolio with one website and one login. Data from the primary companies’ websites feed into a central location, allowing advisors the most comprehensive and detailed overview of a client’s entire portfolio.
Portfolio management software can vary in complexity, but platforms designed for multi-advisor firms offer extensive features. For the advisor, the advantages of using such software are endless – the ability to aggregate accounts with different custodians onto a single platform, easily reviewing the performance of the entire portfolio or isolating a specific account or strategy, securely sharing files in the same platform and building brand-specific imaging are some of the many advantages of using performance reporting software.
Clients can share these advantages as well. Perhaps the most positive feedback received from clients who utilize this software is the ability to have a single website and login to reference all accounts for their household. They can adjust their settings to view an extremely detailed portfolio or to simply review the basics. Their entire personal financial landscape is at their fingertips, which can leave a powerful impression on many investors.
Whether the user is an advisor or a client, the sheer scope and flexibility of portfolio management software makes it a worthwhile investment.
Getting Your Team Onboard with New Technology
In my experience, adopting these processes is not as easy as it sounds and many financial professionals can be resistant – at first. After an advisor has done something successfully for perhaps 15-20 years, it takes more than a value-add conversation to motivate them to change their habits. In the moment of working with a client who urgently needs help or opening a new account after finally closing a prospect– the thought of adding a step into the mix can feel frustrating.
Excuses like “I understand we need to do things differently, but I just closed this deal and now isn’t the time to try something new” will become prevalent if you allow it. It takes a coordinated effort between Leadership and Operations to push back and help motivate people during the adoption process.
Adopting a new CRM is still even easier than other practice management tools, such as performance reporting and business management technology, because they do not really involve the client. These changes are all done behind-the-scenes, and most likely the only difference the client will experience is better service. On the other hand, performance reporting tools can change the way the client interacts and views their accounts which can be a difficult transition for advisors. Advisors do not want to disturb the client experience that they are used to and will naturally be fearful that clients will not welcome change.
When it comes to portfolio management technology, I have experienced greater hesitancy from some advisors because implementing this software directly impacts the client experience. Excuses like “The client has been logging into _____ to review their accounts for the past 10 years – why would they want to change that?” or “I’ve been showing clients the same report for years… what are they going to think when I show them something new?” are often used as reasons to avoid change.
Perception Before Adoption
Ultimately, clients and advisors alike need to perceive the value before they can be expected to adopt technological change.
For advisors, this means illustrating how these programs can make more efficient use of their time, expand their practice, and assist with accountability and compliance. Efficiently utilizing their technical resources will allow them to engage with their clients at the highest and most personable level. It is important to establish the confidence that technology is not supplanting advisors or the services they offer, but rather empowering them to do more.
For the investor, the perceived value is often twofold. On one hand, clients are gaining real-time access to their portfolios and are at liberty to engage as frequently or as seldom as they wish. Additionally, their advisors are spending less time calculating returns and risks and more time discussing the more complex nuances of their financial futures.
In an increasingly digitized world, the element of personal connection is becoming a prized commodity. Those advisors that can leverage technology to enrich their client relationships will capitalize on a successful business model that carries them through not only the trying times of a pandemic but well into the future.